JOHANNESBURG – It’s not often that the Lions faithful are stunned, but they were left speechless on Saturday night after the Blues came to their “home” and beat their team 38-35.
In one of the most extraordinary turnarounds seen at Ellis Park in a long time, the out-of-sorts Blues turned on the heat in a scintillating second half to stun the Lions – and the whole rugby-watching public of South Africa – to bag their first win of the 2018 season, and inflict a quite stunning defeat on the Lions.
The only other team to get the better of the Lions at home in the last two seasons are the Crusaders, who won in the final last year.
Replacement back Murphy Taramai was the hero for his team in the 80th minute as he barged over from close range to hand his side the win.
Let’s not forget the wonderful try-scoring feats of the Ioane brothers Rieko, with two tries, and No 8 Akira, who was a powerhouse throughout the match.
But there were others like Melani Nanai out wide who asked questions for the full 80 minutes, and inside him, Sonny Bill Williams was always a threat.
The Blues scored four second-half tries after trailing by 11 points at the break, their surge putting the Lions under heaps of pressure, which they wouldn’t be able to repel.
For long periods the Lions’ defence kept them in the game – and to be fair, it was outstanding at times – but after wave after wave of attack by the powerful Blues players, it was eventually going to tell.
It didn’t help the Lions that while they looked good in the first half and on top of their opponents after tries by Sylvian Mahuza, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Elton Jantjies, they couldn’t assert any sort of pressure on the visitors in the second spell.
They spent much of the period camped inside their own half and failed to play in the right areas of the field.
Not Ross Cronjé, nor Jantjies or Andries Coetzee kicked the Blues back to their 22m area, the Lions guilty of trying to run every ball, from every part of the field.
Also for once the Lions didn’t enjoy the upperhand in the scrums, and in the rucks and mauls, the Blues gave as good as they got.
The visitors certainly enjoyed as much ball as the Lions did, if not more, and they also asked many more questions with that ball.
At halftime, one wondered how Tana Umaga’s side had failed to make an impression in the competition in the last two years as they’re blessed with powerful forwards and devastating runners at the back, but they showed that when they click and get their stuff together, they can rock any team.
For Lions fans, it’s just a pity it happened against the runners-up of the last two years.
The Lions, though, could have wrapped up the game before Taramai scored at the death, but wing Aphiwe Dyantyi failed to put pressure on a bouncing ball inside the Blues’ in-goal area after a kick into space.
In a close call, the TMO decided it was not a try.
The Lions will have to regroup quickly as the Sunwolves visit on Saturday.
There will also be some worry about captain Warren Whiteley, who left the field with an injury in the first half.
Lions 35 – Tries: Sylvian Mahuza, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Elton Jantjies, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Dylan Smith. Conversions: Jantjies (5).
Blues 38 – Tries: Akira Ioane, Rieko Ioane (2), Jimmy Tupou, Murphy Taramai. Conversions: Bryn Gatland (1), Stephen Perofeta (4). Penalty: Gatland (1).